U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Police Education, Experience, and the Use of Force

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice and Behavior Volume: 34 Issue: 2 Dated: February 2007 Pages: 179-196
Date Published
February 2007
18 pages

This study examined the influence of education and experience in police officers' use of coercion in encounters with citizens.


The study found that officers with some exposure to higher education (attending college through obtaining a 4-year degree) were more likely to rely less on verbal coercion (ordering and threatening suspects) than officers with no exposure to higher education. Only officers with a 4-year college degree were significantly less likely to rely on physical force in suspect encounters. Also, officers with more experience relied less on both verbal and physical force than inexperienced officers, regardless of the officer's educational level. There was no cumulative value in having both a college education and experience in reducing the use of coercion. Based on these findings, police agencies should consider adopting a requirement of some form of college education for recruits. Police agencies may also benefit from assigning more experienced officers to later shifts in higher crime areas. The two datasets for the study were obtained from systematic social observation of patrol officers and in-person interviews of those officers. The data were collected as part of the Project on Policing Neighborhoods, which examined policing in Indianapolis, IN, and St. Petersburg, FL during the summers of 1996 and 1997, respectively. Patrol observation was conducted in 12 patrol beats in each city. The sample of beats was matched as closely as possible across the two sites according to the degree of socioeconomic distress. The latter was measured as the sum of the percentages of families with children headed by a single female, the adult population that was unemployed, and the population below 50 percent of the poverty level. Observations focused on areas where police-citizen interactions were most frequent. 8 tables, 6 notes, and 54 references

Date Published: February 1, 2007